Moments that defined LEGO play we know today

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A couple of days ago we asked you which of the many innovations made throughout LEGO's history has been the most welcome from your perspective, and the responses made for interesting reading.

To mark its 85th anniversary, LEGO has pretty much answered the same question in a video that lists 11 LEGO moments that defined LEGO play we know today.

Many of those that you mentioned make the list, but there are some glaring omissions and one particularly questionable entry.

Watch the video after the break.

{Spoiler alert} Scroll down a bit to see the list and my thoughts on it.

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  • 1932 - Wooden toys
  • 1947 - Plastic and injection moulding
  • 1949 - Plastic bricks
  • 1958 - Interlocking bricks
  • 1962 - The wheel
  • 1969 - Duplo
  • 1977 - Technic
  • 1978 - The minifigure
  • 1979 - Storytelling (Fabuland)
  • 1998 - Mindstorms
  • 2017 - Boost

Boost? Really? I guess it's too early to say whether it'll be a defining product, but it wouldn't have made my list. It's really just a derivative of Mindstorms, technology-wise.

The glaring omissions? As much as many of us dislike constraction (construction+action) sets there's no denying the impact they have made over the years, such as playing a major part in saving the company from bankruptcy in the early 2000s. The introduction of Bionicle's precursor Slizer in 1999 would definitely be on my list.

What about the other major event of 1999 that caused interest in the brand to soar and continues to do so today? I'm taking about licensing external intellectual properties, of course. Without the likes of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Super Heroes and so on half of you reading today would not be AFOLs and LEGO would not be the largest toy manufacturer in the world.

Anyway, it's great that LEGO has produced such a list, and good to see Kristian Reimer Hauge, who you'll know if you've visited the LEGO Idea House, give his personal defining moment at the end.

45 comments on this article

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By in United States,

Bionicle was introduced in 2001 not 1999. Star Wars was 1999. But yeah pity they were both omitted, when I was a kid Star Wars and Bionicle were what made me interested in Lego.

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By in United Kingdom,

Boost probably only made the list because they wanted to do a "then and now"/full circle type thing. I can't figure out the omission of licenses and construction though - 11 isn't a round number or anything, so it's not as if they were trying to only do 10 or something.

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By in United Kingdom,

Spot on, Huw - Boost is a premature entry, while licensed themes and Constraction are glaring omissions. Many credit Star Wars for saving the LEGO company in the early 2000s but it was actually Bionicle - you can't get much more game-changing than that....

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By in United States,

Wow... they left out some important stuff...

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By in United Kingdom,

^^^^ right, I meant its precursors, Slizer, Throwbots etc.

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By in United States,

I love his finishing touch at the end of the video!

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By in Norway,

Also loved the personal story, felt like something he just showed the camera crew as a laugh but got kept.

As for Boost it feels very much marketing driven addition, 19 and then 19 more years;
1979 - Storytelling (Fabuland)
1998 - Mindstorms
2017 - Boost
And pointing forward rather than "just" coasting on iterations the last 40 years makes for better uplifting vibe.

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By in United States,

BIONICLE is definitely an enormous blunder of an omission. BIONICLE not only saved LEGO, it saved my own interest (and undoubtedly many, many other people's) in LEGO, saving us from the "Dark Ages" that still afflict so many. Tangentially, I would hope BIONICLE has a prime presence in the LEGO House, such is the respect it commands for what it did for us fans and for the company itself.

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By in United States,

I feel like LEGO just likes to mistreat Bionicle. Bionicle is near and dear to me because it's the reason I got into LEGO as a kid, I just loved the story and characters, and that's what made me want to buy the sets. The way Journey to One was handled was a disgrace. The end to that show was a horrible way to end G2 and the theme deserved to be treated far better than how it was. I think LEGO not bringing up Bionicle is simply there way of continuing to ignore this beloved theme.

Edit: Plus, Bionicle was responsible for keeping LEGO in business by bringing in thousands of new fans, so I think it qualifies as a "Moment that Defined LEGO".

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By in United States,

That's really interesting.

For some of us LEGO wasn't our childhoods for various reasons. I remember actually when LEGO was around, but the problem was that prior to the minifigure in 1978 a few things were already in my view screen and consuming my interests. GI JOE, and I'm talking the old school, pre-80s 12-inch era, Marx Toys and of course, everything Star Wars.

So the generic figures of the Space, Pirates and Castle lines were just not, for me at 11 or so, what I wanted as much as Luke, Han and Chewie whompin some plastic Vader butt. I expect my childhood would have been dramatically different had LEGO been producing licensed sets at that time. But by the time they did? I was less into play and more into "collecting". Then selling. Now scrambling to get it all back.

Ah...nostalgia... ;)

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By in New Zealand,

Clearly Lego don't rate the license part of their business. Do they feel it's a sell out? Seems a massive omission, without Star Wars and Super Heroes etc they simply wouldn't be where they are today.

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By in United States,

Bionicle and Star Wars saved the company and it makes no sense not to include them. None, just make a list have 13 or 14 or 15 instead of 11. I don't understand why they aren't there, at all. I'd even add Friends and minidolls because without them there would be a lot less smaller pieces we take for granted.

Boost is on the list because they want to make it sell more. The list might have been 10 and someone is like "Say 'boost' as often as you can".

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By in Germany,

And what about the minidoll? I know it's not as popular in the AFOL circles, but it's really popular with the girls.

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By in United States,

They are listing the Boost because they need to promote it (it is a toy designed to intrigue children to science camps), the minidoll, as the above commenter said, is important because it opened a complete market that wasn't interested in Lego as well adding a place to introduce a good looking hospital and a sweet supermarket.

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By in United Kingdom,

^ & ^^ yes, good call.

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By in Canada,

Lego Boost a major innovation? Laughable!

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By in United States,

I personally think that the Modular buildings line, along with the Creator Expert series was a major change. It felt like Lego was finally reaching out to the AFOL community.

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By in United States,

I'd really like to see the Brickset team take a fresh and unbiased look into the how LEGO turned itself around in the 2000s. I believe the concept that Bionicle was the lone savior is one of the great myths of the LEGO world that deserves attention, much like "LEGO invented the studded plastic brick" before it. The timeline alone fails to match up, with the moment often quoted as "the brink" of bankruptcy having occurred in late 2003. Bionicle wasn't introduced in 2004. Bionicle was introduced in 2001. LEGO's new leadership was introduced in 2004 under Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, leadership that practically reinvented every single facet of the company in short order. They corrected the near total lack of profit/loss analysis, vastly trimmed the parts catalog(ue), killed failing products, shuttered their video game studio, sold off unprofitable assets, and halted the explosive acceleration of new product releases, for starters.

The following article states that when Knudstorp assumed command in 2004, "Lego was losing $1 million a day:" https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2016/12/08/brick-by-brick-the-man-who-rebuilt-the-house-of-lego-shares-his-leadership-secrets/ That was with Bionicle in full swing.

The popular mini-exposé by Mark Stafford says "The only reason the company survived" was Bionicle and Star Wars, speaking of the period *before* the turnaround: https://www.reddit.com/r/lego/comments/1x6ldp/lego_franchise_infographic/cf8vdl3/ He's saying Bionicle and Star Wars (not Bionicle alone) were the two strongest bilge pumps operating from 1999 to 2003 that kept the sinking company from going under sooner. He then goes on to reference many of the sweeping changes made under Knudstorp's early reign.

The popular narrative suggests that LEGO almost went bankrupt, but then Bionicle was introduced and the company turned around and became the #1 toy company in the world because of it. That's not how things went at all. Bionicle was indeed one of LEGO's top-selling themes for a number of years. It brought an immense amount of joy to an incredible number of kids. However, it was Jorgen Vig Knudstorp and basic business & financial best practices that saved the company from bankruptcy.

I do think Bionicle and constraction in general deserves more respect than it receives from some of the System-focused crowd. However, I don't think it should be credited with solely saving LEGO, when reality seems to have been a far more comprehensive and practical affair, even if less romantic.

I agree with Green Brick Giant & BoM that Friends belongs on this list, and with others that Boost does not.

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By in New Zealand,

Most likely they had a top 10 sorted, then marketing asked them to add Boost...lol

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By in United States,

They forgot Chima and Galador!

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By in Australia,

I agree that licenced sets are a significant omission from the list. And as others have pointed out, the Friends theme and mini-dolls. While this theme does divide the AFOL community and has been controversial in the wider community, it was the product of a massive push by Lego to appeal to girls, and it has been a massive commercial success for them. It is arguably the most successful girls Lego theme ever.

I would add two more to the list. The first is trains in 1966. The other is Space. Not only is Space perhaps one of the most fondly remembered themes - and got referenced in The Lego Movie through the Benny character, it did something that Lego previously had not done. Up until the release of Space, Lego sets were only based on the contemporary real world themes, with occasional historical forays as well (e.g. 1970's western themed sets). It was the first time Lego looked to the future for inspiration.

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By in United States,

I agree, I expected SW to be on the list.

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By in United Kingdom,

Considering the Lego Idea House designers/experience team deliberately created a dedicated room for Star Wars products only, alongside the likes of a 70s room and early plastic bricks room etc (I'm not going to tell you everything that's there), you'd have thought Star Wars would be in that list. In a similar vein to Bionicle - like it or not it has been a strong factor in Lego's success...

...take my trip out shopping today - in 2 different toy shops the only Lego the majority of kids wanted was Star Wars, or if not another licensed theme such as Batman. I think someone suggested they might like City or something else but I got the impression they turned their nose up at it.

And regarding the omission of mini dolls, this seems the most 'glaring'. I'd heard from multiple people including those at Lego that 'girl-driven' themes were a really strong factor in recent success and that has been reflected in multiple ways accordingly, except for in this video. Did it get edited out for Boost, which clearly seemed to need a plug?

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By in United States,

To be fair, Bionicle isn't around anymore as a theme so it's not something that still officially "defines play". But if wooden toys are on that list, maybe I'm wrong...

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By in United States,

Wait wait wait...Technic is pronounced "technique"?!? I always assumed it was "tech-nick".

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By in United States,

Maybe you guys weren't listening closely to the video - Bionicle is mentioned at 1:17.

For me, the introduction of Classic Space and Technic is what grabbed my attention as a kid. I had gotten earlier sets years beforehand, and occasionally played with those, but it was those themes in conjunction with the Star Wars phenomenon (and the desire to recreate scenes to roleplay from that movie) that found me building and playing again with LEGO every chance I got. And since TLG had not introduced licensed themes as of yet, rebuilding with Classic Space and utilizing a good amount of imagination was the closest we could get at the time without a licensed Star Wars theme.

I had even talked in 1980 with a TLG marketing rep my father knew thru a local business club in hopes of pitching to him some designs my brother and I had for some Star Wars vehicles (non-miniscale AT-AT and Snowspeeder). It was shortly after ESB had been released in theatres, I had just turned 16. He regrettably had to turn me down due to TLG not yet having a licensing agreement with George Lucas.

It would be interesting to see how early on TLG began thinking about acquiring the Star Wars license.

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By in Venezuela,

LEGO Boost would have felt less plugged-in if they had just referred to the (quite important) role technologies and media play in current LEGO products, and how they help children stay connected to their LEGO interests by official means. If it wasn't for LEGO.com, I would be in UV-light Ages by now, letting my poor babies become yellowed dust...

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By in Poland,

But guys. Bionicle was previously a TECHNIC line.

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By in Estonia,

Yeah,who the hell cares about good-old Bionicles.Not LEGO ofc.

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By in Australia,

If TLG want something that's marketable today, I would say that the launch of CUUSOO and the retirement of 10179 would be among the most significant. Ideas sets and the current price of the UCS Falcon are the only times I ever see Lego discussed in general media. The Surf Rescue Ideas project, for example, made it to practically every news station in the country, but I've yet to see an article on the release of Boost.

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By in United Kingdom,


Haven't been able to watch the video yet due to speed issues where I am...

But from your discussions, yes minidolls have been important for bringing more girls into the "hobby"...

Licensed themes have also been important (or why else would they be copied by other companies so much)...

Bionicle is not a permanent theme, so I can see why it would not be mentioned, but Star Wars is, so...

And "Boost" is the latest "newest" product, so needs a plug... But... LEGO Education is starting to focus on STEM style activities and lessons, which this set would allow children to play around with outside of a class-room, learning programming skills which are being "pushed" in many respects (if any of you have seen products from the puzzle company "Think Fun", they are going this was as well)...

So thinking of this, was there mention of "LEGO Education" or the business method "Serious Play", which they ended up using to help turn the company round??

Just a few thoughts... Hope i get better connection to view it soon...

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By in United States,

I think they are linking in anything Constraction in with Story Telling and Technic. Slizers/Throwbots, and Robo Riders did technically have stories, they just weren't fleshed out, but then Bionicle finally stuck. I'm just as surprised as everyone else, though at the lack of a more meaningful mention. Bionicle had story, but it also had Constraction that then inspired Galidor that then showed a lot more studs are needed and you get the buildible Knights from Knights Kingdom and then Exoforce. Technic Constraction was still strong but needed more modular pieces and thus more of the system influence gives you CCBS that is integrated in a whole slew of other sets giving them functions robots and mechs of older space and sci-fi themes could only dream of possessing.

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By in Australia,

The introduction of Friends is, much as I hate to say, a major event in LEGO history. It catapulted them to being in the upper echelons of Toy Manufacturers along with Hasbro and Mattel.

I would say Cuusoo/Ideas was important as it embodies the LEGO Groups change of mindset, along with the recruitment of many AFOLs such as Jamie Berrard who brought an explosion in the richness and beauty to official LEGO set designs.

As many have said, licensed themes helped in saving LEGO from bankruptcy. I'm very glad it is not all they do though, because in my Dark Ages in the early 2000s I remember looking at LEGO sections of toy shops that looked like they were nothing but licensed sets.

Trains is the biggest omission in my opinion, but that is probably just a personal love shining through.

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By in United Kingdom,

Perhaps the reason licensed sets are omitted is because while they undoubtedly contributed to the saving of the company (Harry Potter as well as SW I think), here they are focussing instead on developments that changed the way Lego is played with.

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By in Germany,

I agree with Jang 100%. As much as some people love Bionicle and Constraction on the whole, it is not what saved Lego from going under. At least not singlehandedly.
As for Boost, I can understand why they included it from a marketing standpoint, and maybe it will be remembered as another milestone in ten or more years.
I would also agree with those who feel that Friends could have been included as well. Having said that though, they specifically mentioned introducing storytelling with Fabuland. And Friends, as well as all the licenced themes, basically also fall into the storytelling category. That element was the innovation if you will. Whether you package it as Fabuland, Friends, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Super Heroes or whatever.

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By in United States,

I think the point of the video was to show off the things that changed the way lego toys are played with.
The licenses and themes would likely fall under fabuland as this was probably the first time lego made up named characters and scenarios.

Mini dolls are wonderful but they do not constitute new forms or methods of play compared to mini figures.

Likewise the inclusion of boost may seem odd because they also include mind storms but I think it's the UI I that makes the difference. Just like how they included duplo the bigger chunkier interface of boost is a pretty new way to play with lego toys.

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By in Australia,

Apart from the obvious ones (plastic, interlocking bricks and the wheel), the biggest Lego moments/innovations for me have been minifigures, modular buildings and Lego Ideas. I'd add Speed Champions to my list as well.

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By in United States,

Plastic Bricks with Interlocking Strength
The Wheel
Duplo
Technic / Expert Builder Set (the first iteration, with studded beams)
Articulating minifigs (not the single-part legs pieces that look like charlie chaplin standing)
Space
Technic 2.0 (studless beams), with Power Functions and IR Remote Control.
No more HoG/no more sore back!
Mindstorms
Lego Friends - it's a whole new market
LDD - it's a whole new way to create.

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By in Indonesia,

For me, LDD, because anybody who doesn't have a lot of Lego (or no Lego at all) can build whatever they want on their computer. On the other hand, I agreeLego Boost is too premature to be included, even though bringing programming to very young kids is a great innovation.

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By in United States,

LDD is an interesting one to mention. AFOLs would likely agree that LDD is important, but from a LEGO sales point of view I'm not sure it's that important to LEGO. That and LDD suffers from "not invented here" as LDraw (and dozens of compatible programs) was used for years by AFOLs before LEGO finally introduced LDD. LDD is a product that was invented more because AFOLs proved that there was a need for it, not because LEGO was "ahead of the curve" on fielding such a product.

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By in United States,

speed champions? How did speed champions revolutionize LEGO play?

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By in Australia,

InvisibleTimmy, that's a nitpicky question but here's my answer. The introduction of Speed Champions was a big Lego moment and somewhat revolutionary for me personally as a car lover. It was the first time some of the greatest sports cars in the world were made in minifigure scale and relatively accurate to the real thing. It means a lot to me and I hope Lego keep making them for a few more years. Plus it's the only way I'll ever own a Bugatti Chiron!

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By in United States,

The problem some people have is they're equating themes they like with moments that defined Lego. This isn't a list of cool themes, but things that actually changed Lego. I would say the encompassing licensed Lego themes should be on the list, but not necessarily a specific theme. Boost, I'm sorry to say, doesn't deserve to be on there. It hasn't defined anything yet, and honestly, I don't know many people that are aware of it even.

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By in United States,

I would cut Storytelling (Fabuland) and Boost. Boost is to new to be a defining moments and this is clearly just a plug for it. Fabuland (ie storytelling) isn't that defining in my opinion. Kids naturally create stories when playing. They expend on defined stories or make their own up.

As I said in the early post System of Play is most innovative thing Lego has done. Everything post 1955 derives from System or was made to improve it. The last one is sort of hard. I like the idea of AFOL targeted sets, ie Architecture/Modular Buildings. But I'm sure Lego was ever go for that (but might phrase it differently). While licensed themes are important and big deal, I'm not sure they are truly defining of Lego. Friends might be defining, but as I don't collect it I don't know.

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By in Germany,

The Lego Movie and in particular Lego Star Wars have brought me back to Lego. Without them, I would not be reading this article. Lego bricks are just pieces of plastic. You have to build something out of them that is meaningful to you. Lego themes come and go, but Star Wars has been meaningful for 40 years now.

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